Make Squash Do Double Duty as Pasta

(The Washington Post) -

Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, they are rarely the main attraction. As fall rolls around and squash becomes abundant in grocery stores, maybe it’s time these healthful foods had their moment in the spotlight.

Squash comes in many varieties, including acorn, butternut, delicata, pumpkin and spaghetti. Spaghetti squash is available year-round, with its peak season in early fall through winter.

Inside spaghetti squash is a wonderful surprise: loads of strands of squash that look like spaghetti noodles. Because of this resemblance, it can be easily substituted for noodles — for about a quarter of the calories. Although the mild flavor of spaghetti squash will not replace pasta’s taste, it pairs wonderfully with sauces you would normally put over pasta.

You can get fancy when preparing this vegetable (the USDA counts it as a vegetable, though technically it’s a fruit) or simply drizzle lightly with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. For an added flavor boost, try topping with a bit of fresh garlic and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When selecting your spaghetti squash, it should be hard all over and heavy for its size. Inspect the squash to make sure there are no scratches, punctures or blemishes. The freshest spaghetti squash will be bright yellow and without discoloration.

Health Benefits

Like many other fruits and vegetables, spaghetti squash offers numerous benefits, including antioxidants and other important nutrients to keep your entire body healthy. Some of its key nutrients include Vitamin A (to keep your eyes and skin healthy and protect against infections) and Vitamin C (to help heal cuts and wounds and keep your teeth and gums healthy).

It also contains a good amount of fiber, which is important for overall heart health and helps to control blood sugar for people with diabetes. Fiber also aids in weight management by making you feel fuller faster. Spaghetti squash offers all these benefits without a lot of calories.

As you work your way toward your daily fruit and vegetable intake, keep in mind that variety is important. In addition to incorporating lots of different types of vegetables into your diet, you should also aim for a variety of colors. If you haven’t tried a yellow vegetable recently, give spaghetti squash a try.

Comforting Recipe

Low-carb and low-calorie Italian comfort food is hard to find. Not so with this spin on a traditional Italian pasta dish. With this recipe, you can get your pasta fix by substituting spaghetti squash, which has a look and texture similar to spaghetti’s. By shredding the cooked squash with a fork, you create thin, pasta-like strands. It is mostly flavorless, like pasta. And it’s a great way to add a couple servings of vegetables to your meal.

This dish also contains tomatoes and mushrooms. You can load it up with more vegetables, such as diced zucchini or peas. And the addition of ground turkey or chicken for protein makes it both filling and nutritious.

Spaghetti Squash With Ground Turkey and Tomato Sauce

6 servings

(MAKE AHEAD: The squash can be roasted a day or two in advance and refrigerated. The sauce can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.)

Ingredients

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash (about 4 pounds), rinsed well
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 12 white button mushrooms, stemmed, then sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 14 1/2 oz. canned, diced Italian-style tomatoes, preferably no-salt-added, plus their juices
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 pound 95-percent-lean ground white turkey meat or ground chicken breast

Steps

For the squash:

The spaghetti squash can be oven-roasted or cooked in the microwave.

To roast: Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the squash lengthwise in half, avoiding the stem. Place the halves cut-side-up in a baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the flesh is easily pierced with a knife. Cool completely.

To microwave: Use a sharp knife to puncture the whole squash about 12 times. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes. Cool completely, then cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and pulp. If the squash is not quite tender, microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce:

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onions, mushrooms, the peas and zucchini, if using, half the salt and half the pepper, stirring to coat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, the wine and garlic; cover and cook for 10 minutes to create a chunky sauce, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a separate medium skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the meat. Season with the remaining salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up clumps. The meat should be completely browned. Stir into the sauce until well incorporated and heated through.

Scoop out the squash seeds; discard or reserve for another use. Use a fork (or two) to shred the squash flesh, dragging the fork through lengthwise. Transfer the resulting strands to a mixing bowl or serving platter. Discard the empty skins.

Spoon the sauce over the squash and toss to incorporate, or spoon evenly over the squash. Serve right away.


 

Elaine Gordon is a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist.